The complex mind of the human being allows us to realize different forms of thought, and the abstract is one of them.
Let’s explore this process in more depth to find out what it is about. the main characteristics of abstract thinking and the utility it has on other forms of thought that we also practice regularly.
What is abstract thinking?
The mental processes encompassed in abstract thought refer to those its contents are not elements before which the individual finds himself at this precise moment. It is also considered as an abstract thought which aims to reflect on the causes or the underlying principles of certain phenomena.
It is a very complex form of thought which represents a qualitative leap from concrete thought, in which the object of our reflections is in front of us. In contrast, abstract thinking allows a number of much more elaborate reasoning, which is supported by more recent brain structures, in terms of evolution.
This kind of mental process they first appear in early adolescence, around. The famous author Jean Piaget has already mentioned the processes associated with abstract thought when he established its different stages of cognitive development. Once the individual has developed this ability, he will be able to cope with much more complex problems, applying logical reasoning that will allow him to overcome different situations.
Through abstract thinking the human being is able to concentrate his thoughts deliberately on one or another element, at will. It also gives you the chance to evaluate various objects or ideas, compare them to each other and analyze them at the same time, without any of them being present at this stage.
Main qualities of abstract thinking
Abstract thinking has several characteristics that make it very special. We have already touched on some of them, but we will take a closer look at the most important ones.
1. Ideas on missing items
The first of the qualities that we have already seen in the first point. It is the capacity that abstract thinking gives us to be able to remember various elements that we know but which are not necessarily in front of our eyes at the moment. Although it may seem trivial, it is not so much when you look at the abilities of a child.
In the case of children, when they have not even developed the perception of permanence of the object, there may be situations in which the adult in front of them, simply by covering their face with their hands , will seem to have disappeared before the eyes. of the baby. The same happens in the other direction, when the little child will think that by closing his eyes or covering them, the adult will not be able to find him anymore.
Returning to the ability to think and reason about things that we do not have before us, we must give this quality the magnificent importance that it has, for without it we could not make plans or interpret an idea that would be separated from the objects. that in certain moments are within the reach of our senses. In short, it is one of the abilities that makes us human.
2. Reflection on abstract ideas
Thinking about abstract ideas may turn out to be redundant from the previous point, but in reality it is not. In this case, we are not talking about having the power capacity think about things we can’t see or touch at the moment, intangibles and therefore we could never physically perceive.
We are constantly using abstract concepts even if we don’t notice it. It is common to think about how beautiful a person is, acts of good or bad, we have feelings such as joy, anger or resentment, we know when something is right or wrong, we have beliefs , desires and lusions or dreams. Some people are mired in poverty while others have a lot of money and are therefore rich.
All are abstract ideas, but we have no problem thinking about each of these concepts. This is something that we can do through our ability to think abstractly, so we must also keep in mind the importance of this second quality.
3. Deep reflections
Continuing with the skills that abstract thinking gives us, another of the most important would be to be able to do deep thinking. We can analyze in detail an element or a situation and draw conclusions that make us overcome an obstacle or even anticipate a possible problem thanks to our learning.
Faced with a specific event, we can try to understand what was the fact that caused it, what were the factors that intervened in what happened in that particular way and finally we can think about the possible repercussions. that this event will have. in the future.
But this quality goes further, as it opens the doors to metacognition, the ability to reflect on our own thoughts and extract another kind of learning. For example, we can interpret where our mood comes from or why we take a certain stance on a particular topic, moving closer to the origin of our beliefs or values.
4. Different interpretations
Another advantage of abstract thinking that deserves separate mention is the analytical capacity that we anticipated in the previous point. This is the skill that we need to be able to interpret an event in a very different way. It is obvious that this is happening constantly, for one only needs to imagine a fact to realize that different people will have different beliefs about it.
Whether it is political decisions of an administration, a play during a match of any sport or an episode of a fashion series. The abstract reasoning that we can do in this regard admits as many interpretations as our imagination allows. Everyone can add the nuances they deem appropriate and will be the subject of debate or even discussion, depending on the importance that individuals attach to their position.
Sometimes even the most objective facts are the subject of controversy and disputes begin over their true meaning and repercussions. This is the flip side of this inexhaustible capacity for interpretation that abstract thinking gives us. A double-edged sword.
5. Detect relationships between elements
In accordance with the qualities that we see, we come to another of the main characteristics of concrete thinking. This would refer to our ability to think about and relate to various elements. In addition, by not needing the physical presence of these elements, we can make assumptions and therefore be creative and innovative.
People highly developed in this quality are likely to excel in artistic disciplines such as music, film, painting or literature. Even in the kitchen, because it is also an activity that requires a certain abstraction that allows us to interpret what ingredients or techniques we can combine to generate new dishes.
6. Scientific thinking
The previous point highlighted the usefulness of being able to grasp the relationships between different concepts and thus be able to evaluate different ones. This skill is in addition the door to be able to establish a scientific reasoning. Abstract thinking will allow us to hypothesize a certain phenomenon in an attempt to explain it logically. In addition, we will be able to test these hypotheses.
Moreover, thanks to this ability, we are also presented with another different ability, and that is that we can observe a specific event and draw conclusions that allow us to interpret the logic behind, i.e. d ” use inductive reasoning based on a concrete case to find the underlying generalities. This is another of the most important methods when it is about formulating hypotheses in a scientific way.
On the other hand, we can also use the deductive method, which will allow us to adjust the general approaches of a phenomenon to a specific event, that is, just the system opposed to the inductive process. We are able to carry out all of these complex cognitive processes thanks to the capacity for abstract thinking that we have.
How to improve abstract thinking
Obviously, as with the rest of mental abilities, not everyone has the same basic abstract thinking skills. The good news is that these abilities are not entirely static, but can be exercised to some extent through the practice of different tasks that involve their use.
Thinking exercises are very effective and more very easy to perform, as they can be done while we are in the shower, while we are going on the subway or the bus, while walking on the street or in any situation where we are not. do not mind. active in another process. We just need to focus on a specific topic and investigate the causes, repercussions, feelings it arouses in us, etc.
These reflections should not be an individual act. We can debate with other people and enrich each other from our arguments and force ourselves to think to clearly explain our position and on what logic it is based.
2. The power of reading
Reading is an inexhaustible source of knowledge, but it also helps us to work on our abstract thinking.. We can choose from a multitude of styles and genres and thus transport ourselves to endless situations that will make us create an imaginary scenario in our head and lead us to reflect on new ideas or events, resulting in a most stimulating activity for our brain. .
3. Create art
Reading, admiring paintings or watching films are very rewarding activities, but it is as much or more that we ourselves are the authors of these works. Obviously, not everyone has the skills to make a masterpiece, however the process of creation is equally positive for our abstract thinking, even if we are not, let alone, experts in a certain artistic discipline.
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- Jaramillo, LM, Puga, LA (2016). Logical-abstract thinking as a support to improve cognitive processes in education. Sophia, Collection of Philosophy of Education.
- Rojas-Gomez, JT (2017). Abstract thought from the interdisciplinarity of mathematics. ISSN ecomathematic journal.